SFIFF: Medicine for Melancholy

A man and woman wake up together, hung over and embarrassed (they don’t even know each others’ names). In the course of 24 hours, they flirt and fight, run errants together, and visit some of the sites of San Francisco. But will they become a couple?

One could describe Medicine for Melancholy as the African-American version (and the Bay Area version) of Before Sunrise. We discover the two characters as they discover each other, maneuver around their mutual attraction, and talk about their very different attitudes about life and race. Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins make attractive and likable leads, and for the first hour they’re completely worth spending time with.

But writer/director Barry Jenkins seemed to have trouble ending his first feature. Two-thirds of the way through the picture you realize that it’s going nowhere. The problem isn’t helped by a totally irrelevant political discussion by people we haven’t seen before or will see again and a prolonged scene in a nightclub that doesn’t tell us anything new about our protagonists.

The film makes interesting use of color (which, unfortunately, isn’t reproduced in any of the marketing stills). At first, I thought it was in black and white, but someone’s shirt just looked a smidgen too red for that. Most of the picture is shot that way, with only a little color peaking through an extremely desaturated image. It’s a nice effect, although sometimes a distracting one.

You have two more chances to catch Medicine for Melancholy. It’s playing Sunday, May 4, 8:15, at the Pacific Film Archive, and Wednesday, May 7, at 3:30, at the Kabuki.

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